Jewish Funeral Etiquette for Non-Jews
Sometimes it can be awkward attending a funeral or other ceremonies when the culture is so different to your own. This article is about Jewish funeral etiquette for non-Jews.
It applies when there are short notice and time to find out what the correct manners are.
When it comes to the Jewish culture, there are no Jewish laws that state that non-Jewish people cannot attend a Jewish funeral.
Here is a short guide to Jewish funeral etiquette for non-Jews.
Getting ready for a Jewish funeral
Jewish law stipulates that the burial of a deceased person needs to occur within 24 hours of the person passing away. It is a good idea not to contact the Jewish bereaved family before the funeral takes place. They will be busy making funeral arrangements in this short time span.
Usually, a Jewish funeral does not have flowers and music, and whereas some cultures have the coffin open for mourners to view the deceased, this is not the case with a Jewish funeral. You need to arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of the funeral so that you will have sufficient time to convey your condolences to the grieving family.
Jewish Funeral Etiquette for Non-Jews – Dress Code
At a Jewish funeral, dressing modestly is the key. Men dressed in a sports jacket and long pants or a suit are acceptable. To show respect for the Jewish family, a man should wear the kippah. This is the skullcap, the yarmulke.
It is acceptable for women to wear knee length skirts or dresses, but the colours should be modest. At some Jewish funerals, women even cover their heads, wearing a scarf, hat or other head covering.
A Jewish funeral usually takes place at a funeral home and here, head coverings for both men and women are often even provided. Wherever the funeral takes place, the coffin will be at the front of the room.
Jewish Funeral Etiquette for Non-Jews – Guidance From Those who Know the Etiquette
Those that are mourning, be it the spouse or children and other family members will enter after all the people have assembled.
No one should approach mourners at this time. If the funeral is being held at a funeral home or a chapel, follow what the family does. Sometimes the service is held at the cemetery and will usually be brief.
Do not sit or stand on any grave. Usually the mourners will sit in the front or stand close to the coffin.
Eulogies might follow to honour the deceased and a rabbi or non-mourner family member will say a prayer. This might be in Hebrew. A lot of funeral homes offer translated versions of the prayers spoken.
You should listen to the words in respectful silence and then say “Amen” at the end. Once the funeral service is over, you should wash your hands before leaving the cemetery.
Jewish Funeral Etiquette for Non-Jews – After the Jewish Funeral
Mourners will usually go to the home of the deceased which starts a seven day mourning period called a Shiva. You can visit the mourners to offer comfort and condolences.You can sit with the family and talk about the pleasant memories of the deceased.
It is not appropriate to bring flowers to the Shiva, but donations to a charity or food for the family is appropriate. Leave with these words, “May the Omnipresent comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
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* YouTube video explaining Jewish funeral rites